Saturday 24 July 2010

Nerds of Lincoln

And then just to show them I'll sail to Ka-Too
And bring back an It-Kutch, A Breep and a Proo,
A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!

Dr Seuss, If I Ran A Zoo

I managed to go to the only college in Oxford with almost no famous alumni. This was deliberate. My plan was, and is, that they would therefore have more room for a gold-plated statue of me. Even the few old boys that you might have heard of barely had a connection. John Wesley was there post-graduate and Dr Seuss came, hated it and left after a couple of terms.

Other colleges had portraits of Auden or Laurence of Arabia up in their halls. We had some rectors from the eighteenth century.

However, through Dr Seuss, Lincoln does have one great claim to lexicographic fame. The passage quoted above, which is from 1950, is the first recorded use of the word nerd. It seems, though, miserably unlikely that this is the origin of our familiar insult as by 1951 Newsweek recorded nerd as Detroit slang for a weakling or drip. So unless the underbelly of Detroit was eagerly reading all Dr Seuss's works just as they came out, nerd must derive from another source.

Perhaps, it was an alteration of turd; but, if so, why the E? Or maybe it was backslang for drunk=knurd. Who can tell what strange linguistic pericombobulations produce these odd insults? By the nineties nerd had taken on the modern sense of somebody more interested in computers than soap.

Anyway, here to cheer you through Saturday is another poem by an Old Lincolnite, Edward Thomas:

Gone, gone again,
May, June, July,
And August gone,
Again gone by,

Not memorable
Save that I saw them go,
As past the empty quays
The rivers flow.

And now again,
In the harvest rain,
The Blenheim oranges
Fall grubby from the trees

As when I was young
And when the lost one was here
And when the war began
To turn young men to dung.

Look at the old house,
Outmoded, dignified,
Dark and untenanted,
With grass growing instead

Of the footsteps of life,
The friendliness, the strife;
In its beds have lain
Youth. love, age, and pain:

I am something like that;
Only I am not dead,
Still breathing and interested
In the house that is not dark:--

I am something like that:
Not one pane to reflect the sun,
For the schoolboys to throw at--
They have broken every one.

Read that to your kiddies and let them sob themselves to sleep.

The Original Nerd of 1950


  1. The Antipodean, seeing your pericombobulations and raising you frasmotic,25 July 2010 at 08:51

    I like Thomas' use of punctuation towards the end. It seems to me to put little stutters into the rhythm.

    There is much debate on the internet regarding the difference, if any, between nerds and geeks, and if you want to get really technical, dorks.

    I think the answers can be found in two places, unsurprisingly both in the form of Venn diagrams: here and here.

  2. I'm already joining the sobbing kiddywinks after reading that...but with little hope of sleep at this hour! LOL :)